The Boat Anchor Conundrum!
I must admit that a I own a few Boat Anchors --like maybe more than I should; but they include names like Collins, Drake, Ten Tec, SBE, National, heathkit, WRL and even a hallicrafters FPM 300 (reincarnated). When I first started in ham radio, several of those names dominated the ham market. They are no more save for Ten Tec that is still operating; but with a cloudy future.
These radios graced the pages of QST, CQ, 73, Ham Radio and even Popular Electronics. They were the mainstay of many OT's and on the want list of those of us just beginning the sojourn in the 1950's.
Some of the boat anchor's today can be had for pennies. Two eBay auctions this week for National NCX-3's ended with a price of $26 and $36.50 respectively. A year ago I bought an NCX3 with a power supply for $69. With the exception of the one heathkit I have, they all work and are on the air. But you know what --- they are worth the amount for which they are being sold. I have recorded two snippets of the Left Coast Vintage SSB Net -- the most recent using the other National radio, a NCX200 which I acquired two years ago. The second recording was made using the hallicrafters FPM300 which has been "souped up" and is all solid state.
I now have a standard of comparison and that is with my RADIG SDR. The old boat anchors were FB in their day; but technology has made light years of advancement and when you listen to the OBA's you try to find the menu selection that will improve the received signals.
One of the huge differences is "being and staying on" the right frequency. The recordings make that point. Yet another is signal handling capability. The AGC circuits in these radios have but one aim -- make the S Meter jump up and down. I have had to rebuild the AGC circuit on the NCX3 using components that had not drifted out of tolerance -- there was no way to even zero the S Meter until I added in spec resistors and capacitors. Hey get a grip many of those components are 60 years old --so you can see why some of original short comings have been magnified (greatly) with age).
For those Collins enthusiasts -- the early KWM-2's had a terrible AGC circuit and that resulted in Service Bulletin #8 which truly fixed the problem --but even with the Collins engineering clout --AGC on the initial production runs (and before the KWM-2A) basically sucked. If you check my website www.jessystems.com you can see a better implementation of SB#8.
My RADIG is not a FLEX or an Apache ANON league; but it runs rings around any or all of the OBA's I have. That also now sheds light on even modern hardware radios such as the many transceivers I have built in recent times. They too suffer from some issues such as those ones with homebrew crystal filters. Do these work --yes; but are they as good as the RADIG -- NO.
Thus I think about the $26 (plus shipping) I would have spent had I won the NCX3 recent auction and for that amount I could build a main RADIG Board and the USB Controller. Add in a $15 sound card and a $35 raspberry Pi3 and I have a very modern radio with lots of bells and whistles. That RADIG will fit in a brief case and not take up the full open space of my work bench.
Some bonus features -- with Quisk and WSJTX and my RADIG --it will do FT-4 and FT-8 without any additional hardware. So now the digital modes are built in to some very simple hardware running with some very sophisticated and FREE software. Try running FT-8 with a NCX-3!
Thus I am making a business case -- if you are considering buying a boat anchor or undertaking a homebrew HDR QRP radio ---- Don't! You can have a far superior and home brew SDR RADIG for the same amount of pocket change. No matter how much I use the beer goggle glasses at the end of the day the OBA's are still a pig with lipstick.
The NCX200 ~ 9/24/2019
The FPM 300 (reincarnated) ~ 9/17/2019